OIM GhanaGhana

Migration in Ghana: A Country Profile 2009


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Number of pages : 155
Format : Softcover
ISBN:: 978-92-9068-557-9
Language of Publication: English
Year of Publication: 2009

Ghanaian migration has increasingly become extra-regional, since the decline of Nigeria as a major destination for Ghanaian migrants in the 1980s. Although the majority of Ghanaian emigrants (71%) still stay within West Africa, a growing proportion is migrating to a diverse range of countries outside the region (DRC, 2007). According to 2008 Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates, Ghanaian migrants can be found in more than 33 countries around the world. After West African countries, the most important countries of destination for Ghanaian emigrants are the United States (7.3%) and the United Kingdom (5.9%) (DRC, 2007). Estimates of the Ghanaian emigrant population range from 1.5 million (Twum Baah, 2005) to 3 million (Black et al., 2003).

Since the 1990s, skilled migration from Ghana, especially to developed countries in the North, has been accelerating. Ghana has the highest emigration rates for the highly skilled (46%) in Western Africa (OECD, 2005; Docquier and Marfouk, 2005). The medical professions are particularly affected by emigration. It is estimated that more than 56 per cent of doctors and 24 per cent of nurses trained in Ghana are working abroad (Clemens and Pettersson, 2006). The overall skill level of Ghanaian emigrants is relatively high. According to some estimates, 33.8 per cent of emigrants from Ghana living in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries possessed medium skills, while 27.6 per cent had high skills (EU, 2006). Only 3 per cent of Ghanaian emigrants had no skills.

Many Ghanaians acquire their skills at foreign universities. The latest available figures suggest that almost 8 per cent of Ghanaian university students studied abroad in 2006. Although this marks a decrease from 2004, when 11.8 per cent of Ghanaian students studied abroad, the proportion of Ghanaians enrolled in foreign universities is still substantial (UNESCO, 2008). Public scholarship programmes may unintentionally encourage this trend by providing support only to students and academic staff that study abroad.

While many Ghanaians leave for more far-reaching destinations, many of them also return either temporarily or permanently to Ghana. The proportion of Ghanaians among persons who arrived in Ghana from 2000 to 2007 steadily increased from 18.6 per cent to 34.6 per cent. Of the 1,090,972 Ghanaians who left Ghana from 2000 to 2007, only 153,632 did not return within that period. 

Departure statistics show that the majority of resident Ghanaians leave for commercial activities, followed by spouses and child dependents (Quartey, 2006).

An important result of growing emigration is the dramatic increase in official remittance flows. The Bank of Ghana estimates that remittances to Ghana increased from USD 476 million in 1999 to USD 1.5 billion in 2005. This trend has been affected by the economic downturn in the developed world. The Bank of Ghana reports a 7.3 per cent decrease in remittances in the first quarter of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008 (USD 1.9 billion).

In relation to economically motivated migration, forced migration from Ghana is insignificant and has been declining over the past decade. The number of Ghanaian asylum seekers and recognized refugees under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) protection has decreased from 15,879 in 2003 to only 6,717 in 2007 (UNHCR, 2008).

Although emigration has been increasing at a faster rate than immigration since 1990, Ghana continues to be an important country of destination. According to recent census-based estimates, the migrant population, i.e. foreign-born population, still constitutes 7.6 per cent of Ghana’s total population in 2005. Net migration rate (per thousand persons) for 2000-2005 was positive at 0.1 compared to the -0.6 recorded in the previous five-year period (UNPD, 2008).

Immigration to Ghana

The majority of immigrants to Ghana come from Africa. In 2000, 58.9 per cent of non-Ghanaian residents were nationals from Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) countries, while 23 per cent of immigrants came from African countries outside ECOWAS. According to border statistics from the Ghana Immigration Services, Europeans constituted the largest group of non-African arrivals (15.3%), followed by North Americans (9.7%), from 2000 to 2007 (GIS, 2008).

Students make up a significant proportion of the immigrants to Ghana. In 2007, 8.5 per cent of resident permits were granted to students. Students represented a particularly large proportion among permit holders from ECOWAS countries, almost 25 per cent. The foreign student population at the University of Ghana rose steadily from 1.5 per cent in 2001-02 to 3.8 per cent in 2006-07.

While the overall immigrant population has remained relatively stable over the last two decades, the number of asylum seekers and refugees has dramatically increased, from 11,721 in 2001 to 34,950 in 2007. In 2007, Ghana hosted the largest refugee population in the West African sub-region. Representing 77.3 per cent of the total refugee population in Ghana, Liberians accounted for much of the increase in the number of refugees in Ghana. According to UNHCR (2008), 40 per cent of the refugees from Liberia and Togo were minors (persons under 18 years old). In 2008, Ghana received fewer asylum seeker and refugees (18,206), but the country remains host to the fourth-largest population of asylum seekers and refugees in the region.

Socio-economic context of migration

As more young people enter Ghana’s labour market than ever before, the pressure to migrate may increase unless employment opportunities for young  labour market entrants improve. Ghana’s labour force is expected to grow faster than its population over the next decade. While Ghana’s annual population growth rate – one of the lowest in the sub-region – is projected to remain at 2.2 per cent, its labour force is estimated to increase yearly by 2.9 per cent for the next 15 years (GSS, 2005b). Although the economy has grown steadily over the past few years, from 5.2 per cent in 2003 to 6.3 per cent in 2007, labour-intensive sectors such as manufacturing have been growing more slowly and are therefore unable to absorb the expanding labour force. According to 2000 census data, unemployment especially affects the young and those with no schooling (49%).

The domestic labour force in Ghana is not only growing but also becoming more educated. The net enrolment ratio in primary school has increased steadily from 86.4 per cent in 2003/04 to 90.8 per cent in 2006/07, indicating that more young people (below 14 years old) remain in school rather than seek employment. At the other end of the educational spectrum, more and more workers are enrolled in graduate and postgraduate programmes, especially at private universities. The Gross Enrolment Ratio in tertiary education increased from 3 per cent in 2004 to 5 per cent in 2005 (UNESCO, 2007). In light of these trends, skilled emigration is likely to remain an important policy concern, unless work conditions and employment opportunities for the highly skilled improve.

Lack of career development and poor working conditions seem to be important motivations for the highly skilled to migrate, especially for those in the medical professions. A study on the migration intentions of health workers, for example, showed that the opportunity for further training figure quite prominently in their reasons to migrate (Agyei and Quartey, 2008). Although reliable data on its actual impact is still lacking, highly skilled emigration is likely to have exacerbated already existing labour shortages in critical sectors such as health and education. Over 60 per cent of faculty positions at polytechnics and 40 per cent of those in public universities are vacant. In 2000, it was estimated that only 49 per cent of the needed workforce in the health sector was available and this situation is unlikely to have changed greatly over the years (Nyonator et al., 2004). Hospitals and other institutions of higher learning are struggling hard to retain staff, partly due to emigration.

Policy framework governing migration

Although Ghana does not have an explicit migration policy, it has introduced several initiatives to deal with specific migration issues. For example, the Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper II (GPRS II) identifies the Ghanaian diaspora as a potential source of funding. Ghana’s missions abroad have been tasked to devise strategies to mobilize the Ghanaian diaspora and their resources for national development. A number of concrete measures have also been introduced to facilitate the return of the diaspora, such as a Representation of Peoples Amendment Law and relevant provisions concerning dual citizenship, which allow Ghanaians abroad to hold dual nationality and vote in general elections in Ghana.

Nevertheless, these initiatives often remain uncoordinated; they are sponsored by various donors and implemented by different ministries. This can result in duplication and incoherence in the government’s approach to migration. The recent creation of a National Migration Bureau (NMB) interministerial team/steering committee, later renamed Migration Unit (MU), under the auspices of the Ministry of Interior is an important step towards addressing these issues.

An important task of the inter-ministerial MU team is to formulate a comprehensive national migration policy, so that the fragmented legal framework governing migration could be streamlined. A fully fledged national migration policy would also facilitate ongoing efforts to mainstream migration into development plans.

The prospective MU will be supported by technical committees on Migration and Economic Development; Labour and Irregular Migration; and Migration Policy, Information, and Research. The preparation and updating of Migration Profiles will be the responsibility of the last thematic group. By regularly updating the Migration Profiles, an inter-ministerial body such as the MU can encourage wider information-sharing on migration within the government.

Data gaps

In order to facilitae updates to the Migration Profile, the timeliness, processing, and analysis of migration data need to be improved. Most migration data is census data that is usually collected every ten years and therefore often outdated. While GIS collects a wealth of administrative data on entries, departures, and registration, the lack of data disaggregated by sex, age, and other relevant characteristics makes meaningful analysis difficult. The government also has no accurate data on Ghanaians abroad and irregular migration. Household survey data is a valuable source of migration information but often remains underutilized. For example, in West Africa, Ghana’s 2005 Living Standard Measurement Survey is considered as one of the best examples of a general household survey that features migration and remittance questions (IOM, 2008a). However, the survey still awaits full analysis. Future Migration Profiles could make better use of the data provided by national household surveys.